April 4, 2020

Studying foreign languages with inbox zero

The only time I've been able to seriously, rapidly improve my ability to speak a foreign language was through intensive language courses in college. I was forced to actively speak, read, and write Chinese for 6-8 hours a week (1-2 hours every day). Then study another 5-10 hours a week in preparation for the active sessions. I went three semesters like this before I left school.

I've been trying to recreate that intensity since and mostly failed. After marrying a Korean, I've redirected the little effort I can muster to learning Korean. Aside from stints over the years (mostly for a month or two before or after a trip to Korea), I haven't been able to keep up any practice.

One thing I've tried over the years to commit myself to learning a number of different topics is to set up recurring calendar invites: "Study Linux", "Study TCP/IP", "Study Korean", etc.

This has mostly failed too. However, I do always look at the invites as I get notified.

I keep inbox zero and I check my email many times a day, marking each email read dilligently when I no longer need to think about it.

Tools like Quizlet, Anki, or even Duolingo let you self-learn vocabulary when you feel like it. But basically no service will try to keep giving you exposure to some set of topics whether you spend time on it or not.

The most important thing I can think of is forced exposure to vocabulary. So I've been planning for some time to hook up a list of the one thousand most common Korean words to scheduled emails.

This weekend I finally got around to scripting the Google Calendar API against the words list. I have an event for each word for the next 1000 days. Each day I receive a summary email including all events of the day and the new word is part of it.

This is a pretty indirect approach but it's pretty simple to set up. It's not very easy to reconfigure.

The code for doing this is available on Github if you're interested. And if you know a service that can build and manage scheduled notifications against a spreadsheet or database I'd rather be looking at that.

We'll see how this works out.